“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Friday, May 27, 2016

Trip to Antelope Canyon and Glen Canyon

After Bryce, the next place we planned to visit was Antelope Canyon. It takes about an hour long drive from Kanab to reach Antelope. Located in the east of Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon consists of two distinct slot canyons, Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon. Maintained by Navajo Nations, Antelope Canyon was formed by the wear of Navajo sandstone caused by rainwater and flash floods whipping through the rock. 

Our decision to visit Antelope Canyon was influenced by the beautiful pictures of the canyon we viewed on Facebook. The pictures were so attractive that I had great expectation out of the trip. However, when I visited the place in real, I was not satisfied with what I witnessed and experienced. I don't know about others, but I found Antelope a bit overrated. It is beautiful no doubt, but does not come anywhere near in comparison to the attractiveness of Bryce or Zion National Park. Notwithstanding, it is the costliest of the three national parks. Both Bryce and Zion have entry fee of $30 per vehicle that remains valid for 7 days. In comparison, visiting upper Antelope costs $48 each and lower antelope costs $28 each and the ticket remains valid for only one ride. We were informed that Upper Antelope is more beautiful and involves less of a precipitous hike than that of Lower Antelope and hence, we decided to visit Upper Antelope. We paid $116 in total for two adults and one toddler, plus $20 as tips to the guide who took us to the tour. Our enthusiasm of visiting the canyon was dashed the very moment we reached the ticket counter of the canyon. Backpacks were not allowed inside the canyon and considering we have a two year old toddler accompanying us and the trip was supposed to be one and half hours in length, I had to take a backpack with food, milk and water bottle for my child. After much pleading, we were given the permission to carry the backpack, but were repeatedly told that we needed to carry it in our hands and not on our back. Tripod was also not allowed inside the canyon unless one shells out $80 extra. However, all these were okay had we gained an out of the ordinary experience in the canyon, but I received very little in terms of experience from this overpriced trip. 

Upper Antelope Canyon

Just as we reached the upper Antelope canyon, the tour guide before taking us inside the canyon started admonishing us as if we were school children in need of discipline. We were a total of 12 people in the van that took us to the canyon.  The first thing the tour guide said to us before taking us inside the canyon was to set our cameras in particular modes to capture the best of pictures. The tour guide didn’t say a word about how the Antelope canyon was created or the history of flash flooding in Antelope canyon where flash floods claimed the lives of 11 tourists in 1997. The only thing the tour guide said to us about the canyon was that the canyon belongs to the federal government and that the canyon was originally owned by her grandmother and that’s all about it. There were five more tour guides shepherding a horde of tourists inside the canyon and I saw all of them keeping the tourists busy in taking pictures as if taking pictures is the whole purpose of the trip. If one wants to enjoy the beauty of the canyon simply by looking at it for long, one will not be able to do it because of the rush of taking pictures. Either the tour guide of the next group will hurry you up or the tour guide appointed to you will threaten to send you back to the van if you don’t quicken your pace. Even the photographers who paid extra to carry their tripod and camera accessories inside were not able to take picture peacefully because of the commotion. Also, though the trip was supposed to be one and half hours long, it was wrapped up within one hour. 

Antelope Canyon

Since at the Upper Antelope we heard from another tourist that tickets were no longer being sold at the Lower Antelope for the day, we decided to visit the nearby attractions for sightseeing and thank God we took that decision. First we went to Carl Hayden Visitor Center to collect a map on the nearby attractions. The map clearly provided directions for the main points of attractions nearby around Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam on Colorado River. Glen Canyon Dam is one of the largest dams in the USA. The construction of the Glen Canyon dam started in 1956 and it took 17 long years for the reservoir named Lake Powell to get completely filled. Before the construction project of the dam began, the site was inaccessible to public. The construction of the dam faced controversies as the environmentalists considered the action of building dam in the canyon an act of tampering with nature. However, because of the dam, the town of Page, which receives its electricity and water from the dam, flourished.

The Carl Hayden Visitor Center offers boat trips to the dam, but since only one boat leaves in an hour and we reached the visitor center at 2.35 p.m. and the next tour was scheduled to start from 3.30 p.m., we didn’t want to waste time waiting. So we went to the White House Overlook to view the Glen Canyon Dam. 

White House Overlook on the rim of the Glen Canyon involves a hike down a set of stairs carved into rock. The entire hike from going down to coming up will take about 25 minutes in total. With the sun blazing mercilessly above and the harsh dry climate of Utah draining moisture continuously from the body, the 25 minutes long hike seemed tiring. I would advise to carry water bottles inside a backpack whenever you go on a hike, no matter how short the hike is, in Utah. The white house overlook gives a distant glimpse of the Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

The next point for us to visit was the Horseshoe Bend. Located within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Horseshoe Bend is only within 5 miles driving distance from the Glen Canyon Dam. In order to reach the overlook to see the Horseshoe Bend, one needs to hike about 1.5 miles along a steep sandy trail. The hike to the Horseshoe Bend was the most strenuous of all the hikes we did during our trip, partly because there was not a single tree in sight to create shades under which one can rest for a while. There was a small shaded rest area created in the middle of the hike, but both the times while hiking up and down the trail, I saw the rest area overcrowded and so I couldn't rest to catch my breath. Secondly, pushing the stroller up the sandy trail was impossible and so we had to carry our son in arms all the way up and down, which added much to the physical exertion. 

Horseshoe Bend

One piece of advice I would like to reiterate again is that while hiking in Utah, please carry sufficient quantity of water bottles as the scorching heat and dryness of the weather leave one completely dehydrated. I have heard that many people while hiking along the trail to Horseshoe Bend fell sick due to the heat. Also, people with children must be careful of the edge of the overlook as there is no railing. A fall from the overlook will be fatal. If you can endure the painstaking hike, the view awaiting is quite rewarding. Though many travelers on Trip Advisor have claimed the Horseshoe Bend to be overrated and the painful hike not worth the view, I found the view pretty stunning.

Horseshoe Bend

 By the time, we completed viewing the Horseshoe Bend and came up to the parking lot, we were thoroughly exhausted for the day. There were two other beautiful attractions that we wanted to pay a visit to, Big Water and Rainbow Bridge, but the downside of traveling in Utah is the sun beats down on you ruthlessly and tires you out. Both these attractions involve hiking and we were completely drained of energy, so we quit the plan to visit those places. There is always a next time. So, we took the route to scenic drive around Glen Canyon and came across these scenic views. 

Our trip for the day came to an end here and we started towards Kanab where we stayed for two days and nights, because Kanab is close to all the national parks we planned to visit; Bryce Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Zion National Park. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Trip to Bryce Canyon

Our first destination in the four day long trip was Bryce Canyon. Located in southern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is famed for its red hued hoodoos and conical rock formations. The park is relatively smaller in size compared to other famous national parks of Utah such as Zion. As per the guest reviews of many travelers in trip advisor, Bryce Canyon can be covered within a matter of few hours. Bryce Canyon looks at its best during sunrise or during sunset when the sunlight creates a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors on the rock formations. Since with our current itinerary, it would not have been possible to visit the place to experience the beauty unfolded during the sunrise, we planned to witness the wonder created during the sunset. 

Though we wanted to start early in the morning for Bryce Canyon from Las Vegas, we spent more than an hour having our breakfast done and locating Subway where from we packed our lunch. After my experience in Grand Canyon where we wasted two hours only to be served cold stale sandwiches, I always prefer visiting national parks with lunch items packed beforehand. Not all the national parks have good provision for food, so you better be ready. By the time, we started from Las Vegas towards Bryce, it was 10.30 am. It takes about 4 hours from Las Vegas to reach Bryce. Since Utah is one hour ahead in time from Nevada, our GPS showed the arrival time to Bryce at 3.30 p.m. However, we were halted in traffic jam for 30 minutes created due to road construction midway, which ultimately increased our arrival time to 10 minutes past four. 

We reached Bryce Canyon exactly at 4 p.m. The entry fee was $30 per vehicle and it is valid for 7 days. The points that we decided to pay a visit to within Bryce Canyon were chosen keeping in mind the constraint of our two year old. We opted out hiking from our option and focused on the overlooks to have the best possible view of the Bryce Canyon and the Bryce Amphitheater. The Bryce Amphitheater is the most sought after section within Bryce Canyon among tourists. All the major overlooks including Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Sunrise Point, and Sunset Point offer a good vista of the Bryce Amphitheater. However, Paria View, which was the first point we paid a visit to, offers the view of a distant valley into which a tributary of the Paria River flows. The creek was, however, completely dry when we visited. Though the vista offered by Paria View may not be as attractive as that of other viewpoints, it is worth a visit because it offers a view of the canyon from a different angle.  

View from Paria View

We three at Paria View

The Bryce Point was the next point we paid a visit to. Bryce Point has an elevation of 8300 feet and gives more attractive view of the sprawling hoodoos than that of Paria. The labyrinth of fins and hoodoos with specks of greenery in between creates a beautiful landscape to marvel at.

The Bryce Amphitheater viewed from the Bryce Point

However, the best of all the overlooks was the Inspiration Point, especially the Upper Inspiration Point, which involves 0.5 miles of hiking along a steep trail. Though it was quite strenuous for us to hike the slope with our child in the stroller, we did climb up to the vantage point at the Upper Inspiration and I am glad that we did it. The vista of spire shaped rock formations from the Upper Inspiration point was breathtaking. I wish our camera could have captured the beauty our eyes witnessed. 

The amphitheater visible from the Inspiration Point

My better half with the amphitheater in the background at Upper Inspiration Point
The last point we visited was the Sunset Point. Sunset Point offers the view of some of the most famous of Bryce Canyon's hoodoos such as the Silent City and Thor's Hammer. When we arrived at the Sunset Point, more than one hour was left for the sunset and we saw several photographers getting ready to capture the view of the canyon during sunset. However, I was disappointed to see that many of the hoodoos went already behind shadows, because the view is facing the east, which means that long before the sun is set, the hoodoos will get overtaken by shadows. So I wonder if the wait for taking a picture during  sunset is worth it. Fortunately, one of the two famous hoodoos, the Silent City was still visible when we arrived at the Sunset Point, so we were able to capture it in the camera lenses. 

The Silent City

After finishing our trip in Bryce Canyon, we started toward Kanab, which is considered the heart of Utah’s national parks because of its close proximity to the national parks in southern Utah. We decided to spend two nights in Kanab because of the same reason. It takes only one and half hours from Bryce Canyon to reach Kanab. Kanab is also close to Zion National Park and Antelope Canyon, our next two destinations. Zion is located only at one and half hours distance from Kanab while Antelope is within one hour driving distance from Kanab. I would recommend anyone planning to visit the national parks around southern Utah to choose Kanab as a stopover as it will save a lot of to and fro driving time.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Prelude to Our Trip in Utah National Parks

Me and my husband are not particularly people who plan a trip a few months in advance. We make impromptu plans one or two days or at the most a week in advance and go ahead with it. Most of our trips were chalked out at the last minute and we have always enjoyed such surprise tours. This trip that I am going to write about is not an exception either. My classes for MBA first semester came to an end on 4th May and classes for summer semester were supposed to start from 16th May. So in between, I had little more than 10 days of holidays to take advantage of. Though we desired to take a trip during my holidays, we didn’t start planning until 9th May when my husband came home for lunch in the afternoon and told me that he wanted to go to Yellowstone National Park for three days. I told him to give me the afternoon for doing my research before confirming on Yellowstone. I did a small research on Google and realized that going to Yellowstone during spring break would not be wise as many parts of the park remain closed. Besides, the weather runs amok during spring. The weather forecast for Yellowstone exactly on the days we were planning to visit showed signs of rain showers. I didn’t want to take the pain of visiting a place when the chances of rain putting a damper on our trip were high. So we dropped the plan for Yellowstone. I zeroed in on choosing a location ideal for a visit this time of the year. So after an hour of deliberation, we decided on visiting the national parks in and around Utah. Utah with its desert climate is ideal for a visit during spring when the temperature hovers below 90 F. 

However, Utah has about a dozen beautiful national parks. Choosing a few out of them for our itinerary was not easy. Though both of us wanted to visit the Arches National Park, due to time constraint of only three days with a two year old toddler as company, we decided to travel only to those national parks located close to each other so that we would not have to spend much time on driving. My past travel experiences have taught me to plan an itinerary with less time spent on driving so that we could focus more on enjoying the trip and the surrounding beauty of the place visited. 

We decided to use Las Vegas as a stopover for our four day long trip, because firstly, it was the biggest airport close to the national parks we were visiting in southern Utah and secondly, Salt Lake City, the next biggest airport near to Utah’s national parks, was almost 6 hours driving distance from Zion National Park, which was one of the three national parks we planned to visit. So on 11th May evening, we caught the 8 pm flight from Detroit and reached Las Vegas at around 9 pm (Nevada is three hours behind in time from Ohio). We reached Treasure Island hotel, our resting place for the night, at 11 p.m. Though we wanted to take a stroll down the Las Vegas strip at night, by the time the dinner was served in our room and we finished devouring the same, it was 12 a.m. Intending to preserve energy for the four hours long drive scheduled for the next day morning, we decided to retire to bed. However, the view of the strip from our hotel room was fascinating and I spent half an hour gazing at the splendor before calling it goodnight. 

If you have enjoyed the prelude, please don't forget to read about the next part of trip on Bryce Canyon